Thursday, February 16, 2012

Shame on you, Jules Verne

Visionary legislation from the State of Oklahoma was recently documented here, in this instance a timely proscription on the introduction of human fetuses into our processed food supply. Given that we're talking about Oklahoma nothing is safely assumed, but presumably Captain Nemo, in Verne's "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea," could not be prosecuted in Oklahoma for serving up to his guests "my own recipe - sauté of unborn octopus." Has to be people's unborn people. So, no shame on Jules Verne. The proposal was withdrawn by its sponsor, State Sen. Ralph Shortey (R), to the evident relief of his fellow legislators, who anticipated Shortey's eventual assualt on the veal sector.

 (The mother, looking wistful, did not approve.)

Again from the Oklahoma legislature, a piece of visionary legislation. Constance Johnson (D.), state senator from Oklahoma's 48th legislative district, has proposed an amendment to the state's "personhood" bill (SB 1433). The original bill stipulates that "the unborn child at every stage of development (has) all the rights, privileges, and immunities available to other persons, citizens, and residents of this state." Whether these rights, privileges and immunities include license to operate a motor vehicle, voting, buying hard liquor, acquiring marriage, fishing, hunting or gun licenses, or eligibility for high school cheerleader tryouts, was not specified. Since it's Oklahoma, I'm guessing that at the very least, marriage and gun licenses are still on the table. Protection against unlawful search and seizure is guaranteed by the Constitution, so sonograms are still OK, if suspect (because the technology reveals the will of God before the sell-by date).

Senator Johnson's amendment to this bit of tomfoolery, written in her own fair hand, requires that "any action in which a man ejaculates or otherwise deposits semen anywhere but in a woman's vagina shall be interpreted and construed as an action against an unborn child." It's damnably hard of a woman living in a ranch-and-farm state to strike a blow against onanism and recreational bestiality, but here you have it. Read it and weep:

Her own fair hand

Chances are (as Johnny Mathis once sang) this bill would have saved the future careers of countless unborn persons and spared many a good Sooner State woman the onerous task of giving her taskmaster the fortnightly blow job. But Constance Johnson, like Ralph Shortey, withdrew her proposed legislation. The difference, of course, is that Constance Johnson has a rich sense of irony.

According to one blogger, "Another pro-choice legislator, Democrat Jim Wilson, attempted to add an amendment to the bill that would require the father of the child to be financially responsible for the woman's health care, housing, transportation, and nourishment while she was pregnant. The amendment failed . . . ."  More an accountant's sense of humor, but not bad when you consider how awfully dull, except for Contance Johnson, the job must be.

A Baptism to Die For

Religion is a puzzling gallimaufry - a "santorum" - of curious belief and even more curious practice; and saving perhaps serpent handling or communal celibacy (both of which seem somehow shortsighted), none more so than baptism of the dead. At its simplest, vicarious or proxy baptism is the Mormon practice of baptizing a living person on behalf of one who is dead, the live person receiving baptism for the ethereal "target."

Baptism would loom preternaturally important to one whose cosmology includes a maelstrom of invisible souls in torment, some of which may or may not be related to the subject. I don't know what the averages are on hitting something so elusive as a soul in outer space, but apparently they nail them pretty regularly. In the circumstance, and weird as it seems to me, it would be a humane and decent thing to settle one's family obligations by receiving proxy baptism for those deceased next-of-kin who may have in life neglected the offices and privileges which alone can lead to salvation.

 Souls in torment

We might even make the case that the living owe any of their deceased fellow communicants such a service. The obligation arguably pales as we move farther from the circle of the blessed, unless of course we're still talking about our lapsed Uncle Louie who passed away while on parole, in serious financial arrears and without having enjoyed the benison of one's own chosen fold and tabernacle.

To extend one's ministrations to the fallen of another creed appears to me to go above and beyond the admonitions of Jehovah (cf. Exodus 17:13, for example), and to troll a rather long line in the hope of picking up some free radicals who now have a second chance to share one's peculiar version of eternity. It turns out that the Mormons have been doing just this, most notably in the case of survivors of the Holocaust and in particular the relatives of Nobel Prize-winner Elie Wiesel. 

Some people are never happy

The Nobel laureate has objected strenuously to this practice, seemingly indifferent to the fact that it makes his Mormon brethren feel better in doing it, and heedless as well of the prospect that for all he knows he may be passing up his only ticket to Heaven, Deseret-style, a Nash Rambler in every driveway and a beehive in every back yard. What could be wrong in the prospect of enjoying an anodyne Eternity that only an American faith could imagine? Admitted, it could bore you to death if it weren't that you'd already be alive forever.


Or, as Pascal put it nearly four centuries ago, what's the flap-pay all about? Why get all hot under the collar, Elie? What if, in other words, the poor sap is wrong and all those Mormons are onto something? "God is, or He is not," Pascal argues, offering a disjunction that takes no prisoners.  "Reason can decide nothing here. . . . Which will you choose then . . . since you must of necessity choose? Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is . . . If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation that He is."

Now strictly speaking, the plaintiff has no gripe with God in particular that I'm aware of. His case is with the Mormons, who have had the temerity, the bald-faced, brass-bound gall to concern themselves with his infidel soul and those of his dead ancestors. (Wiesel's own name, it turned out, is in the Mormon genealogical database, awaiting the orisons and supplications of the faithful in his behalf upon his own translation into outer space as a poor damned soul - which I think in charity you'll agree is not quite the same as a damned poor soul.)

But I'm betting that in the end it won't matter what the Mormons pray for. And, of course, they could always be right. Or, to take Pascal's argument to one logical extreme, never look a gift horse in the mouth. Or again, as Mrs. Wiesel might have once told young Elie, what could it hurt? - you can't be too careful. Why does your father buy insurance, meshuggah?

 Gates of Hell, or Thinking About Insurance
(William Bates)

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Slave of St. Valentine

Though at first blush distinct in the male firmament, the Woman Who Has Everything and the Woman Who Wants Nothing become as twin stars, indistinguishable at great distances and particularly come Valentine's Day - a day which, oddly, never seems to be at a great distance from any other day, surprising some of us as it does year after year with its alarmingly sudden proximity. An impossible day, filled with impossible hope and promise.

"Don't mess with me."

Well, strictly speaking, the women in question do not become impossible so much as the predicaments of their respective chevaliers. The One Who Has Everything wants either everything or something - anything - not yet conceived; the latter wants nothing at all, she assures you in good faith. In either case there are no clues given. The god of jest has inevitably conjoined the former with the Fellow of Infinite Resource; the latter he has joined for life with the Fellow of Dismal Imagination. The wrong knights for the right ladies.

My lot falls with the latter. Yet try as I might, I can never quite accept (without an ennervating mix of shame and remorse) those regular protestations of volo nihil, fearing as I do the eventual noli me tangere. Or as Marcus Antoninus is said to have said of Cleopatra, "No gift, no asp." So, as for St. Valentine's Day in the post-chivalrous age, dies jacta es - the die is cast, the deck is stacked, the cards are marked, all the concupiscent providences are provided for, none in our favor. 

Hallmark Cards has won another engagement in the War to Commodify Sentiments. Some of us are hostages. Another Faberge egg is out of the question . . .


. . . since they're already crowding out the display cabinet that houses the extensive Hummel collection I've assembled in the futile hope of fatally gagging the dog . . .

A modern car has specialized and readily satisfied needs, many not entirely understood by the distaff population which is the subject and beneficiary of the day. Which leaves out the Ferrari Testa Rossa 250 I had meant to park as a surprise under the porte cochere on the happy morn. Guess I'll just call it a keeper and not mention it.

I'm finally old enough, however, to have arrived at a solution of sorts for the Man Who Cannot Buy His Way Out, the man for whom society's frail safety net has unravelled and terminally frayed. It occurred to me some years ago that any woman wishes her valentine to share in her hopes and dreams, whether or not that object of her affections can finally and wholeheartedly accept the details of how she wishes her house and grounds to look. She would not likely put it as baldly as "slavery," but one year I did, and it was immediately and unhesitatingly accepted as a true empathic commitment. A valentine, if you wish, with all its concomitant appurtenances and favors.

"For a day," I said, "I'll be your slave."

I don't have the Ferrari any longer but I'm hoping to buy it back. I've saved a few bucks but my back is gone. We still get along fine. I've just got to get another day off so I can work around the yard.

Happy? Hell yes. Happy.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Suit Without Briefs

At the remove of nearly 40 years, I can still regard myself the beneficiary of an extended and leisurely college education, though such a privilege appears in many instances overrated.

In one of the  week's odder news reports, Louis Helmburg III of Marshall University in West Virginia is suing Alpha Tau Omega and fraternity member Travis Hughes, claiming he suffered injuries at a party in 2011 after the allegedly drunken Hughes attempted to fire a bottle rocket from his anus. "Instead of launching, the bottle rocket blew up in the defendant's rectum, and this startled the plaintiff and caused him to jump back," and fall off the deck, the lawsuit contends.

(Don't try this unless you've been to college)

The real legal case here, and the opportunity for a genuine case-based educational moment, is not Helmburg the Third's rather unimaginative injury suit so much as Hughes's potentially landmark contract of breeches suit. First, the suit would necessarily be brought in the absence of any briefs to file. And second, in order to ascertain the evidence in the case, the plaintiff would have to stick his head up his ass, where it has evidently been before now.

The 'kicker' in an alcohol molecule

The creed of the fraternity reads, in part, that "Alpha Tau Omega holds before the young men of the country an ideal and something greater than a mere intellectual ideal." Leaving aside for the moment what could be "mere" in an intellectual ideal, clearly both these young men have more than met the credal demands of the fraternity. One wonders, for example, whether Hughes knows the Latin for "rectum."

Any mere intellectual ideal has been left in their considerable fraternal dust. My suspicion is that they are not students of the sciences, in which case they would have understood the potential chemical interactions between ingestion of ethanol, ignition of an organic compound, and fractile properties of glass.

No, I suspect they were studying something arcane, like "management" or "organizational leadership," the sorts of academic programs that invite consumer fraud suits down upon the heads of offending institutions. But in either case, I don't see a career in jurisprudence in the making.  

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Nothing So Depressing (As Optimism)

The optimist proclaims that we live in the best of all possible worlds; and the pessimist fears this is true.
                                                                 - James Branch Cabell, "The Silver Stallion" (1926)

That observation by a now obscure American novelist in an obscurer novel is worthy of Mark Twain or one of the great English wits - Sydney Smith or Oscar Wilde. Twain remarked in the same vein that "There is no sadder sight than a young pessimist - except an old optimist." Someone else, deservedly obscure, maintains that humans are the only animal with a sense of a future, which is, after all, what optimism and pessimism encompass. I say 'deservedly obscure,' since even the most casual notice of animal behavior remarks a greater capacity for prudence and self-preservation than is typically observed in humans.  Animals do not willingly jump from airplanes or seek electoral office.

Still, it's true that we all have some sense of a future, perhaps even the added sense that we might control it in a minor degree. A person who decides, say, to get another tattoo clearly has a different sense of their future than someone who remains unillustrated. Tattoos just don't lend themselves to success in certain occupations, like bank robber, brain surgeon, grand duke or securities analyst.

(Dreamed of career in investment banking)

People who exercise seem to have a healthy notion of their future, since they act as though, all else being equal, they likely have one. Of course, there's exercise and then there's exercise. When it comes to your sense of a future, it's one thing to "play sports," another to "do a sport." Anything that requires first getting off the ground seems like staking your life on a lottery ticket, an aerial version of getting completely tattooed.

The future is now
People who actually do play the lottery must have a diminished view of their own future, given the odds. If the lottery is your metaphor for your future, then it's probably also your sole means of getting there. In which case, whether you have one is purely accidental, worse odds than a crap shoot or repeated fervent prayer.

 Devotional arithmetic

Exercising, most of us think, is a good hedge. Then again, you can decide to play it safe and not overexert yourself. You know, spare the old ticker, which is another way of hedging, if you look at it that way. If you're happy to learn that Medicaid will pay for your "personal mobility device," you've probably figured out that your Segway's cupholder holds more than your future.  But excitement can be too much of a good thing.

Never Walk Again

In any case, it's not always so easy to discern whether someone is doing something to decide their future or has simply given up on it, a victim of circumstance. What about people who go to the social welfare office in their pajamas, a fashion among a certain social stratum now recently banned in Dublin - have these poor souls simply thrown in the towel, concluded that pajamas really are streetwear, or do they have a cunnng plan? I can see that a visit to your local employment office in sleepwear may be a plan of sorts. Not looking like a jobholder is one sure way to get an extension on your holiday, if that's what you want.

Then, of course, there are people with no sense of a future at all - like Civil War reenactors. .

. . . oil industry lobbyists who think that "global warming" just means "better weather". . . 

"Spend It Like You Stole It" Inhofe (R-OK)

 . . . leaders of the "free world" who think that drones are the same as foreign policy . . . 

. . . or who think that building a fence will improve our SAT scores. 

No, as someone else once said, I find nothing more depressing than optimism.